In his book, Charity Detox, Robert Lupton asks the question: How can a church have the most
positive impact on a community? That is a powerful question and one that many churches are
probably asking. However, in terms of priority, how might your church view this question? Is it
the most important question or does it fall down the list somewhere? If so, how far does it fall
and what are the questions that take precedence over it, and why?
Once a man came up to Jesus and posed the question as to which Commandment was the most
important. (Mark 12.28) Jesus responded, “To love God and to love your neighbor.” Many
Churches may attempt to focus on the first primarily, or exclusively, but Jesus made no real
distinction in his words, his values, and in his day to day ministry that one was to take
precedence over the other. To love, as Dallas Willard defines it, means “To will the best for
another.” To will the best for God is to will the best for our neighbor because that is precisely
what God is seeking.
According to the gospel of Luke, Jesus began his ministry by quoting from the prophet Isaiah.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4.18-19)
Jesus’s presence is the clearest sign of God’s favor being poured out upon humanity. The key
theme of the prophets, justice and setting things right, was actively being done by God himself
through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.
The more intriguing question that Lupton asks of the church is; do you seek activities or
outcomes? In other words, does the positive impact mean actually changing the social climate? Is
it measurable? Think of the abundance of resources within the people of any church, not the least
of which is the exact same Spirit that was in Jesus, and what, if pooled together, that could
actually accomplish. And if our gathering together included thinking and dreaming about true
shalom for our community and putting that into concrete action we would then have a profound
and positive impact on our community. Volunteerism might be the banner call of the church but
Jesus’ call, and his own example, literally changed lives. And so, the author presses, when will
the church begin to follow in the footsteps of the one they profess as Lord? Now that is a
question worth wrestling with.